The D.C. public school system plans to cut central office spending by 25 percent and increase funding for the city’s schools to improve course offerings next school year, part of a new budget that includes $726 million in local money.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced Thursday that after years of school closures, D.C. Public Schools plans to open four next year and will hire 200 new school-based staff members. Many of the new employees will work in the city’s comprehensive high schools, offering a more expansive and consistent range of extracurricular activities and advanced courses citywide.
The budget aims to improve equity as school leaders push to persuade more families to choose neighborhood schools. City public school enrollment continues to grow overall, but many families have been choosing public charters or schools across town through a citywide lottery.
The system is projecting a fourth straight year of increased enrollment, with more than 1,500 new students next year, putting enrollment at more than 49,000.
“Next year will be a great year for us,” Henderson said. “We will have more teachers, more DCPS staff, better high school programs, more exciting initiatives, and a lot more fun happening in school.”
While many D.C. agencies are cutting spending, the city’s traditional public schools received a 3.4 percent increase in local funding, largely based on the growing number of students. Local funds make up most of the system’s budget, but projected federal funding was not available Thursday.
Henderson also announced that the school system will, for the first time, invest in library collections, with a per-student allocation ranging from $20 to $30, depending on the number of at-risk students in a school.
The city’s schools have mainly relied on parent fundraising or philanthropy to stock library shelves, creating a wide disparity in collections, a Washington Post analysis found. The new library allocation aims to improve access to books for all students, particularly those from poor families.
Another new per-student allocation will pay for supplies for art, science and physical education.
“This is a way to ensure that communities that are not as affluent or active can have the same kinds of resources at school,” said Christopher Rinkus, deputy chief of enrollment and school funding. “It’s just a more equitable approach.”
Henderson has called next school year “the year of the high school,” after making heavy investments in elementary and middle schools in the past two years.
An extra $13 million for the city’s nine comprehensive high schools will provide enough staffing to offer at least six Advanced Placement courses and 20 elective courses, such as choir, marching band, yearbook, debate and African American literature in each neighborhood high school. Current offerings differ widely by school, depending on enrollment and budgets, and many students have clamored for more activities and nonacademic courses.
The spending plan also includes funds for expanded career and technical programs and for more athletics; each high school will have a coordinator for extracurricular activities.
Selective and alternative high schools will not see big changes this year. Wilson High School, with the city’s largest high school enrollment, offers a range of academic and extracurricular programs and also will not see major changes.
Cathy Reilly, executive director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators , said she is “delighted” to see the extra investment in high schools and more uniform offerings. “Students and their families will really welcome this,” she said.
The schools scheduled to open next school year include Brookland Middle School in Northeast, which will focus on arts and world language and was originally supposed to open this year; Van Ness Elementary in Southeast, which closed in 2006 and will reopen with an early-childhood program; River Terrace Elementary in Northeast, which closed in 2012 and will reopen for special-education students; and an elementary campus of Community Academy Public Charter School in Northwest, after D.C. schools agreed to take it over because the school’s charter was revoked.
The budget includes $45 million in funding for at-risk students that will be awarded to schools based on the number of enrollees who are in foster care or are homeless, who are receiving welfare benefits or food stamps, or who are performing at least a year behind in high school.
The D.C. Council approved the boost in funding last year to help schools mitigate the effects of poverty. Last year, Henderson had more flexibility in how the funds were allocated; this year, the funds will be distributed according to a strict formula and will fund a range of support elements, including extended-day programs, reading specialists and extracurricular activities.
The school system also is investing $1 million in a pilot program to extend the school year at Raymond Education Campus.
Henderson said she did not have details about how she will make cuts to the central office, although she said each department will have to meet a specific target, and cuts will come in the form of positions, programs and through vacancies. DCPS has 275 central-office employees.
The end of judicial oversight into how the school system administers special education services — when an 18-year-old lawsuit known as Blackman-Jones was dismissed in December — already has led to reduced costs in monitoring and supervision, Henderson said.
“There will be limits on what the central office can support and provide next year to schools,” she said. “A 25 percent reduction, people are going to feel.”